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Reflections on matters in the news (PM’s proposed address on National Heroes and brief reflections on Margaret Thatcher)

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I had been planning to do an article on matters pertaining to the selection of our next National Hero or Heroes. I understand, however, that Parnel Campbell, on his Monday night television programme, dealt in detail on a matter that concerns me most. I will, in my column for this week, support the position that I was told was articulated by Campbell.{{more}}

When I heard an announcement that the Prime Minister was going to give an address on matters pertaining to national heroes, I wondered what was going to be the focus of his address and presumed that it would have been centred around issues related to the selection of our next National Hero, urging us to put aside partisan political considerations and the need to go about the process in a professional and transparent manner with the involvement of as many people as possible.
 
I was therefore somewhat alarmed when the topic of the PM’s address was mentioned in last Friday’s Searchlight. It stated that the topic of the Prime Minister’s lecture was “National Hero Status: Consideration for McIntosh, Joshua and Cato…He will make a case for why he thinks these three national figures ought to be considered for National Hero Status…”

The Prime Minister did signal before that, as someone elected by the people of this country, he had as much right as anyone else to comment on the matter and it will appear, identify his preference for the person or persons to be dubbed with that honour. In theory, this sounds good, but certainly only up to a point. I am not sure how the decision to get the Prime Minister to deliver an address on the matter was arrived. If the invitation was extended by the UWI School of Continuing Studies, then I will think that it was an error. If the offer came from the Prime Minister, then there should have been some caution. Why am I saying all of this?

Well, it has to do with the process of selecting the National Hero or Heroes. Cabinet is indeed the final arbiter on the matter and the Prime Minister, as Head of Cabinet, will of course have the final say, although not presumably outside what was submitted by the Committee. When therefore he signals his preferences it would definitely have an impact on the Committee, especially since the Prime Minister has a major say in how the Committee is selected.

The Committee, I believe, is formulated in the following way: the Governor General appoints one person on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition, three persons on the advice of the Prime Minister, two in his own deliberate judgement with, the final three coming from a list submitted by NGOs, but after consultation with the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. The chairperson of the Committee is presumably selected from among the nine members of the Committee, although the Act does not specify how.

The Act lays down the criteria by which the Committee determines the eligibility of persons whose names had been submitted. After a decision is made by the Committee, the name or names are submitted to the Governor General, who after consideration, sends it to Cabinet. The Prime Minister then advises the Governor General who should be appointed National Hero/Heroes and this, of course, is final.

 
 
Margaret Thatcher Passes

It is understandable that the reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s death would have been widely varied, even taking into account the accepted view that we must speak no ill of the dead. She was, to some extent, the darling of some women’s groups, having been at that time the first female prime minister of a major European country. Her election in 1975 as the Leader of the British Conservative Party in itself says something and explains why she was later dubbed the Iron Lady. To become leader of the Conservative Party she would have had to out-macho the men and hold on to those cherished masculine attributes. Wasn’t she also nicknamed “Attila the Hun”?
 
Her tenure as prime minister coincided with that of Ronald Reagan as US president. They developed a close relationship and were considered ‘soul mates’. They both stood for deregulation, a hard line against Trade Unions and the reduction of taxes for the rich and in her case doubling the VAT. Thatcher was described as cruel, seen as an uncompromising leader and as a divisive figure. Thatcherism was identified with economic liberalism and social conservatism. She fell out with her colleagues over her refusal to move toward any further integration with the European Union. Her policies resulted in a widening of the gap between rich and poor, with the poor suffering tremendously under her. She opposed sanctions against South Africa, calling for constructive engagement and described the ANC as a terrorist organisation, leaving her somewhat embarrassed when later she had to meet with Mandela.

Her second term in office came with the benefit of the Falkland War. In her Autobiography: The Downing Street Years 1979-1990, she said that she could have felt the impact of the Falkland victory wherever she went. She wrote “It is often said that elections are won and lost on the issue of the economy, and though there is some truth in this it is an oversimplification”. She said that people drew a connection between their resolution on economic policy and “that demonstrated in the handling of the Falkland War.”

The “Iron Lady” did transform the British political scene and set it on a path from which it still has not been able to turn away, despite the years of Labour’s Tony Blair and Gordon Browne.

  • Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.
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